The Distorted Images Of African Continent; A Heideggerian Interpretation

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

The Distorted Images Of African Continent; A Heideggerian Interpretation


Abstract


This study was carried out on the distorted images of African continent: a Heideggerian interpretation. To achieve this significant research objective were formulated, which is to showcase and bring to “more” conscious awareness the varied distorted images with which Africans are labeled. The study covered the whole of African continent, especially the black Africans, bearing in mind that some Africans like Egyptians are white in complexion. The history of African is relevant to the history of Black people throughout the world, and partly because of the general derogatory image “Africans” and Black people everywhere have inherited from Western history. The study adopted the expository, analytical and hermeneutical design. Hence the study analyzed the Martin Heidegger: The Question Of “Being”, the fundamental ontology: Dasein analytic, his methodology, and Heidegger’s concept of phenomenology and interpretation. The study in the chapter four analyzed African Distorted Images, the causes of African predicament which include; Geographico, Historico, and Colonialism. Additionally, phenomenological interpretations of African distorted images was also part of the study. In conclusion, the study indicated that the distorted images about Africa, in the light of Heideggerian interpretations, are born out of prejudice, and cannot withstand the sledgehammer of logical criticisms. Further, European explorers and anthropologists did not discover or uncover the hidden meanings embedded in the African phenomena like artifacts, symbols of religious worship etc. Which reveal the care, understanding and concern of the African Dasein in his everyday world or environment. Those distorted images about African still perceptibly showcase themselves in this contemporary time through most western Medias, avenues and scholarly writings. These also reveal themselves in the way Africans are treated in the world today. Nevertheless, it would be incongruous to relegate African plightful situations to the limbo. Really, many African nations are lavishing under the burden weight of poverty, hunger and economic bastardizations. Many African leaders also contribute to the hardships of their nation. There are reaped harvests of deaths everywhere. But most of these African predicaments are caused by colonialism, slave trade and geographical cause. Therefore, Westerners should restore an act of faith in the humanity of Africans. As they can achieve and conquer a lot through mutual understanding, love and cross fertilization of ideas. Telhard de Chardin describes this love as that which “brings individuals together, not superficially and tangentially but centre to centre.


Chapter One


1.1 General Introduction

What do you expect would come to the minds of many, assuming you stand on Mountain Everest and shout the word “Africa” to the hearing of all mankind? Arguably, many (especially Westerners) would immediately succumb to the idea that Africa is a place of tribal slaughters, massacres, urban slums, skeletal children, people infested with AIDS; a place where the earth is dry and cracked, a place of endless stream of refugees without a place to call home, without clothing, medicine, food or water, plus other images of savagery, inferiority complex and hunger. According to Ezine Newsletter:

Those are the only images we see in C.N.N during the nightly news, during times of crisis and then there is nothing until the next war, skirmish or famine. Limited, selective images that make a continent look like it is always in upheaval.1

But these images about Africa are not only associated with the C.N.N. nightly news, they have permeated for hundreds of years in the West’s perception of Africa. Lending weight to this, the same Ezine Newsletter (African insight) on African images, opines:

For hundreds of years, Africa was a blank spot on Western maps, a place that did not exist and then during the Middle Ages it became a dark spot. It was referred to as the “dark continent”, where primitive people without history and civilization dwelled. Where chaos was the norm, even the capacity for an African to love was questioned since a savage being was not capable of love or Christian charity2.

In concrete, Africans, especially Blacks, having been besmirched with these subhuman statuses, it was as easy as rolling off a log to take this Dark continent filled with savages and ship them to ends of the earth as slaves. This explains the 16th Century African Slave trade, when Bartoleme de Las Casas (Bishop of Chiapas) threw off Christian anthropology aboard and made a clarion call for African slaves, who would replace the emaciated Indians in Hispaniola, Spain, 1517. It was also easy to plunder the riches of Africa, its people and resources, and to colonize them under the guise of bringing civilization and Christianity. No wonder, Jomo Kenyatta opined in his book, ‘Facing Mount Kenya’:

The missionaries came with the Bible in their hand and we had the land. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed, and then when we opened them we had the Bible in our hand, and they had the land.3

But a critical mind would ask, why was it Europe, rather than Africa that conquered and plundered? This, I shall briefly explain in chapter three of this project, while focusing on the main point of my project.

Today, we could see the same tune played and danced according to the old methods. We could see veiled distorted images of African continent and “neo-asphyxiating colonialism”4 in the relations of Africa with the West. These we see in most actions of U.N, G-8 club, C.N.N news and other Western means.

Thus, in chapter one of this project, I will expose the views or distorted images about Africans starting from the Ancient to the Contemporary period. Chapter two of this project will navigate on Martin Heidegger’s task in his “Being and Time”, his idea of the fundamental ontology and his concept of phenomenology, which I will use to interpret these African experiences. Chapter three will dwell on African distorted images vis-à-vis the causes of African predicament. Later, I will use Martin Heidegger’s concept of phenomenology to interpret these distorted images. Chapter four will be on critical evaluation and conclusion.


1.2 Purpose of Study

My purpose of this project is to showcase and bring to “more” conscious awareness the varied distorted images with which Africans are labeled. These distorted images, though as old as the continent itself, have continued to form ominous clouds of hatred in the mental skies of most Westerners. The notion that Africans, especially Black Africans, are inferior has implicitly continued to petrify in the African relationship with the West. For instance, “eighty five years after the witch hunt against the African soldiers in Liverpool, Anthony Walker, a promising young black student from Liverpool was viciously murdered with an axe on 29 June, 2005 by white youths who were angered by the fact that Walker had a white girlfriend”.5 Imagine this.

To hedge West’s sheer and implicit distortion of Africans as inferior, Africans themselves have unconsciously submerged themselves to this status–quo. Very soon, they will become “untouchables”.

As a result of the above, this project is not only aimed at show-casing, but is also geared towards salvaging the tainted images of the Africans. It is aimed at confronting Euro centric superiority by asserting the fact that “we are all humans, irrespective of color, skin and race. Again, my intent is that there is more to complexification (coming together) than there is to particularization. Pierre Telhard de Chardin hit the truth when he remarked:

It is precisely this state of isolation that will end if we begin to discover in each other not merely the elements of one and the same thing but of a single spirit in search of itself.6

Again, like every other project on African experience, this project is an attempt to unmask the “un-freedom” of Africans hobbled by many “positive” and ‘’negative’’ elements (slavery, colonialism et cetera) as a result of the sub-human status created for them.

I shall interpret these images about African continent, using Martin Heidegger’s concept of phenomenology in his “Being and Time”. Remember, I am not using this concept as benchmark to African situation; instead, I am only interpreting his concept of phenomenology and situating it to African situation. Again, I shall not relegate to the limbo his question of the meaning of being by which he arrived at the fundamental ontology: ‘’Dasein’’-man. Thus “Dasein” is the gateway to other ontologies. It is because of the centrality of Dasein with its existentials that this project focuses on the distortions of African “Being ness”.


1.3 The Scope of Study

The scope of this project covers the whole of African continent, especially the black Africans, bearing in mind that some Africans like Egyptians are white in complexion. It covers the whole of African continent, because the word “Africa” already connotes negative undertones for most Western minds. Hear what was written on “milestones”, December 26, 2005 ‘Time magazine’, vol 166 no.25, captioned “The persons of the year”, with reports by Illa Garger, about Africa 13 years ago:

Africa has become the basket case of the planet, the “third world of the third world’’, a vast continent in free fall…. Africa has a genius for extremes, for the beginning and the end. It seems simultaneously connected to some memory of Eden and to some foretaste of apocalypse. Nowhere is day more vivid or night darker. Nowhere are forests more luxuriant. Nowhere is there a continent more miserable. Africa-sub-Saharan Africa, at least – has begun to look like an immense illustration of chaos theory, although some hope is forming on the margins. Much of the continent has turned into a battleground of contending doom . . .7

Even though, the reporter might have some reservations (Egypt or some nations of North Africa), he painted the whole continent black. Therefore the scope of this project is the African continent. But distinctions will be made when necessary.


1.4 Methodology

The method of this project is expository, analytical and hermeneutical. By expository and analytical method, I will carefully expose the varied distorted images of Africans, starting from the ancient period to the contemporary period, with analysis when necessary. And by the method of hermeneutics, I will interpretatively unmask these distorted images of Africans using Martin Heidegger’s concept of “phenomenology” in order to see what lies behind them.


Chapter Five


5.0 Evaluation and Conclusion

A thorough reading of this project would convince my reader that those distorted images about Africa, in the light of Heideggerian interpretations, are born out of prejudice. Those distorted images cannot withstand the sledgehammer of logical criticisms.

The ancient views about Africa are founded on mythologies and superstitious beliefs. They had become reference points for men of letters in the medieval period and for any derogatory image on Africa. The first European explorers and anthropologists who came to Africa carried in their mind those distorted images about Africa before they arrived Africa. One can imagine what they would say when they arrived the continent and saw wild animals, thick forests and half–naked people. But they forgot that geographical and climate conditions of a place have a lot to say about the place and the people in it. They forgot that as wonder (about the world) led the first lonian philosophers to define the ‘urstoff’ of things, it also led the primitive Africans in their religious devotions. Because mists of prejudice cloud their understanding, they could not allow those African phenomena to show themselves from themselves. Some of them like Levy Bruhl who described Africans as people with inferior minds, forgot Heidegger’s words that “Dasein facticity is such that its Being–in–the world has always dispersed (zerstreut) itself or split itself into definite ways of being. Hence David Hume’s denigration of the Africans in the modern period holds no water.

They did not discover or uncover those hidden meanings embedded in those African phenomena like artifacts, symbols of religious worship etc. These reveal the care, understanding and concern of the African Dasein in his everyday world or environment.

Again, those distorted images about African still perceptibly showcase themselves in this contemporary time through most western Medias, avenues and scholarly writings. These also reveal themselves in the way Africans are treated in the world today. They are hobbled with huge debts, exploitations and harsh treatments by the U.N and E.U.

But those images with which Africans are labeled are not only African phenomena. For instance, Keith Reichburg, an African American writer, wrote in regards of the Rwandan genocide (tribal wars):

Fully evolved human Beings in the 20th century don’t do things like that.1

But he forgot that fully evolved Western and Asian human beings killed 6 million Jews in the 20th century under Hitler. Stalin eliminated 20 million soviets and the Japanese imperial troops, machine gunned, bayoneted and raped 300,000 Chinese civilians in the Rape of Nan king

He also forgot that ethnic conflagration cuts across the breadth and length of every continent.

Again, the primitive Africans were regarded as cannibals by the first European explorers that came to Africa. But today the Japanese even eat aborted babies. What a contradiction!

Nevertheless, it would be incongruous to relegate African plightful situations to the limbo. Really, many African nations are lavishing under the burden weight of poverty, hunger and economic bastardizations. Many African leaders also contribute to the hardships of their nation. There are reaped harvests of deaths everywhere. But most of these African predicaments are caused by colonialism, slave trade and geographical cause.

Therefore, I urge the Westerners to restore an act of faith in the humanity of Africans. We can achieve and conquer a lot through mutual understanding, love and cross fertilization of ideas. Telhard de Chardin describes this love as that which “brings individuals together, not superficially and tangentially but centre to centre”2


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